Your cook's learning curve
Two workshops, among what we believe are many offered in the city, are training domestic staff in how to get better at what they do. And employers are learning the advantage of upskilling them even if at a cost
One of the advantages of your child running a restaurant is that you get to order whatever it is you like. Towards the end of his life, late chef Jiggs Kalra, who couldn't stand the fact that his doctors were deciding his menu, would defiantly order dishes from his son, Zorawar Kalra's Asian restaurant Pa Pa Ya. Unlike him, Meera Devidayal, had set her eyes on a long game. Why do a takeout when you can simply request the chef to train your domestic cook!
"She would pester me to send her cook to the restaurant kitchen to learn a few things ," Meera's daughter, restaurateur Gauri Devidayal recollects, laughing. "It wasn't practical, so it never really happened." But she figured that if her mother wanted to have restaurant-adjacent food at home, there would be others too. Which is what prompted her to launch a maharaj-training workshop at Magazine Street Kitchen, a 2,500 sq ft experiment kitchen space in the Darukhana area or Mazagaon.
A maharaj is a male cook, typically employed by a single family, catering to all their meals. Mostly, he will only cook vegetarian food. While the tribe is slowly on the decline—most of them are employed in well-heeled South Mumbai homes—there continues to be a demand for those who can boast of a wide repertoire of dishes. Unsurprisingly, Devidayal's first call for entries received tremendous response. "We accepted only 12 registration requests for the first workshop but since then we've increased it to 15," Devidayal says, adding that increasing the number would make it difficult to manage.
At the workshop, maharajs and female domestic cooks learn to make baked falafel with tahini Sauce, Vietnamese rice paper roll, peanut sauce, beetroot hummus and guacamole among other dishes. The idea, Devidayal says, is to make domestic cooks open to experimenting. At the end of the three-hour workshop (always held between lunch and teatime when the cooks are relatively free), the students return home with six recipes, printed out in English and Hindi. At the workshop this writer attended helmed by Louis Gomes, who is chef de cuisine at Devidayal's Colaba restaurant serving what they call "San Francisco style globally inspired cuisine", The Table, some participants would hold out their mobile phones and film the entire workshop, complete with instructions. "Some of the participants may not know how to read. Plus everyone learns in different ways," Devidayal says.
It's also why she and her team dropped the idea of coaching them in anything other than cooking. She adds, "In our first workshop, we had included setting the table or folding napkins and even grooming, but we discovered that each of them has their own process. Even with the dishes, we try and stick to the simpler recipes. It has to be something they can make at home and not be intimidated by."
At Magazine Street Kitchen's maharaj workshop, male and female domestic cooks are taught simple recipes beyond ghar ka khana, including international dishes like Vietnamese rice paper rolls. Seen here is Chef Louis Gomes taking the session while participants refer to the printed notes and film the process on their phones. The sessions cost approximately R3,500. Pics/Ashish Raje
Public relations professional Gauri Kitchlu Nayar, who dispatched her cook to the workshop, says that it was important for her to have a help who could go beyond making the regular meals. "When we have friends over, we tend to order in. I'd like to reach a point where meals are always made at home," she says, adding that her cook has returned with a new way of looking at food. "These may not be the exact same dishes she learnt but her approach to food has undergone a change. She'll take the initiative to cook the same vegetables in different ways or ask if we'd be okay to try out something new she has made that day. Importantly, she feels like we're investing in upskilling her."
Jaishri Kimmatkar, 43, takes a session at her two-day workshop where female domestic staff is taught how to set the table, serve a guest, do up the bed in a manner that you'd expect in a hotel room, and social etiquette. Kimmatkar is not charging fees for the sessions for now
Upskilling domestic helps is also what prompted Jaishri Kimmatkar, 43, to launch a workshop called Maid in Heaven. The politically incorrect name notwithstanding, Kimmatkar's idea to train domestic helps in her neighbourhood in upscale Lower Parel was met with great response. Unlike Devidayal's workshop, Kimmatkar's is a relatively newer and voluntary initiative. "We held the workshop across two Sunday afternoons on November 17 and 24, and had 15 participants," she says. "We covered grooming, hygiene, table etiquette, house-keeping and basic first aid."
Kimmatkar, who is a soft skills trainer, works with school and college students as well as large corporate clients whose employees need training in communication skills, body language, business, social and dining etiquette. Her two-day workshop for domestic helps, involves equipping them with tips on how to carry oneself. "It starts with something as basic as how to wash your hands, answer the phone or respond when you're called for. We also get into teaching them how to be active listeners, not slouch, and learn to communicate properly with their employers," she says.
The workshop also covers more advanced etiquette such as learning how to set the cutlery and crockery, demonstrating how to serve a guest or doing up the bed in a manner that you'd expect in a hotel room. It also offers handy tips for everyday tasks such as cleaning hard-to-reach spaces in the home or dusting furniture. "Everyone needs to upskill themselves," Kimmatkar says about starting this initiative, "I figured even domestic staff could do with some assistance."
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